Low, Long Division
For those of you who prefer your strange musical experiences to be a little less harrowing, here's yet another band I ran across by seeing the tail end of their video. Low is the band that those of you who always hated how busy This Mortal Coil's arrangements were have been waiting for. They are a trio, with Alan and Mimi (no last names provided) sharing ethereal vocal duties, Alan providing spare, largely single-note guitar parts, Mimi adding percussion (calling it "drumming" would give an inaccurate impression), and Zak filling in a few of the open spaces with carefully placed bass notes. The songs are slow and deliberate, phrases repeated at a near standstill with mathematical precision, but the result is surprisingly musical. You have to be patient with this album, as things take their own time about getting anywhere, but if you can shift your temporal frame of reference far enough, and not keep reaching for the non-existent speed switch on your CD player, the experience is really quite refined. Alan and Mimi's vocal harmonies are graceful, and the instrument harmonies between Zak's bass and Alan's guitar have a monastic sort of tunefulness about them. The vocal delivery doesn't seem to place much importance on the actual words, and what little close study I applied to them indicated that this is probably just as well (Here's what I was able to get out of the opening track, "Violence", less only some repetition of the final line: "Lent you my favorite dictionary, / Came back with ripped-out pages. / Stopped by so uninvited, / Wasted good silverware on you. / You can't trust violence."), but the phrases suit the moods in an impressionistic way. There isn't as much atmospheric reverb or texture as This Mortal Coil would have applied (the crack about TMC being busy by comparison was at least partially serious), and these songs are much more abstract than depressing, but It'll End in Tears is certainly the closest point of musical reference I can think of. This is a rare album of music that is relaxing without being at all cloying, a sort of musical version of a chapbook of elegant line-drawings, simple elements rendered powerful by their isolation. It's also one of the only albums of nominally "popular" music that you could play on church bells at full speed, and note-complete.
- glenn mcdonald (this review is copyrighted by him, 1995)